When Does Your City Start Working for Free?

It’s no secret that workers in London are the best compensated in the UK. Of course, there are several factors involved which level the playing field slightly including the cost of living, property prices but the capital undoubtedly has a greater amount of opportunities with larger, higher paying companies.

However, when the average wages earned by London’s workforce are compared to those of the rest of the UK’s cities the disparity raises the question of income equality.

Depending on where you live, you could essentially be working for nothing five months of the year in direct comparison with average London earnings.


Based on the average wage of the closest five cities, the percentage difference in earnings means that they’re working for free from October


When compared with London, those cities with the lowest average wages are working for free from July


If you’re earning the UK average wage of £33,900 – you’re working for free from September in comparison to the capital.

The map below shows the number of UK cities that begin ‘working for free’ when directly compared to London wages and which month this begins, with the majority split between September and August.



When looking at wages aside from the cost of living, these findings are quite startling, however, the scales are tipped when essential expenditures are removed from average earnings.

Here is a look at some of the UK’s largest cities and where they rank in terms of expense for everything from rent to groceries and even eating out at restaurants:


Unsurprisingly, London has the highest cost of living when compared to the rest of the UK. This becomes more evident in the regional comparison below which shows the average annual outgoings per household.


This brings things into perspective when compared to the average wages of each city, for instance, the examples below show those cities left with the highest and lowest amount of money after the average annual household spend per region has been taken off their wages…


As you can see, once the annual essential spend per region has been applied to the average wages for a city, London doesn’t even break the top five – coming in at #7 on £10,038. However, it still fares a lot better than the cities in the bottom five whose wages aren’t enough to cover the average annual household spend of their region.


Wherever you live there’s bound to be fluctuations – let’s be honest – not everyone makes the average wage for their city (and some make many times more), however, there’s one trend that affects us all, wages across the UK are continuing to steadily rise.


The East Midlands, London and the East of England have seen the largest growth in employee pay during 2017.

This upwards trend has also been charted by the ONS since 1997 and, as you can see below, both Scotland and Northern Ireland have seen a greater increase in wages than London (as well as England including London), with Wales trailing behind.


The index on this chart references percentage increases in wage growth with a baseline of 100. Every country in the UK has seen at least a 60% wage increase since 1997.

Wages will always be a contentious issue and, as demonstrated, the levels of investment in the UK’s capital (often at the apparent detriment of other regions) have clearly left a large divide in worker compensation.

However, despite this ongoing dispute, it’s essential to bear in mind the costs associated with bringing in larger wages in more expensive areas.

It’s also heartening to see that earnings are still rising across the board meaning that, while you may not be as well off as a Londoner, it isn’t all doom and gloom!

January 2018 average wage data sourced from Adzuna.
Cost of living & additional income data sourced from Numbeo & the ONS.